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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates(Chapter26)

2006-09-08 21:29

  Chapter 26. The Palace in the Wood

  As the boys skated onward, they saw a number of fine country seats, all decorated and surrounded according to the Dutchest of Dutch taste, but impressive to look upon, with their great, formal houses, elaborate gardens, square hedges, and wide ditches——some crossed by a bridge, having a gate in the middle to be carefully locked at night. These ditches, everywhere traversing the landscape, had long ago lost their summer film and now shone under the sunlight like trailing ribbons of glass.

  The boys traveled bravely, all the while performing the surprising feat of producing gingerbread from their pockets and causing it to vanish instantly.

  Twelve miles were passed. A few more long strokes would take them to The Hague, when Van Mounen proposed that they should vary their course by walking into the city through the Bosch.

  "Agreed!" cried one and all——and their skates were off in a twinkling.

  The Bosch is a grand park or wood, nearly two miles long, containing the celebrated House in the Wood——Huis in't Bosch——sometimes used as a royal residence.

  The building, though plain outside for a palace, is elegantly furnished within and finely frescoed——that is, the walls and ceiling are covered with groups and designs painted directly upon them while the plaster was fresh. Some of the rooms are tapestried with Chinese silks, beautifully embroidered. One contains a number of family portraits, among them a group of royal children who in time were orphaned by a certain ax, which figures very frequently in European history. These children were painted many times by the Dutch artist Van Dyck, who was court painter to their father, Charles the First of England. Beautiful children they were. What a deal of trouble the English nation would have been spared had they been as perfect in heart and soul as they were in form!

  The park surrounding the palace is charming, especially in summer, for flowers and birds make it bright as fairyland. Long rows of magnificent oaks rear their proud heads, conscious that no profaning hand will ever bring them low. In fact, the Wood has for ages been held as an almost sacred spot. Children are never allowed to meddle with its smallest twig. The ax of the woodman has never resounded there. Even war and riot have passed it reverently, pausing for a moment in their devastating way. Philip of Spain, while he ordered Dutchmen to be mowed down by hundreds, issued a mandate that not a bough of the beautiful Wood should be touched. And once, when in a time of great necessity the State was about to sacrifice it to assist in filling a nearly exhausted treasury, the people rushed to the rescue, and nobly contributed the required amount rather than that the Bosch should fall.

  What wonder, then, that the oaks have a grand, fearless air? Birds from all Holland have told them how, elsewhere, trees are cropped and bobbed into shape——but THEY are untouched. Year after year they expand in unclipped luxuriance and beauty; their wide-spreading foliage, alive with song, casts a cool shade over lawn and pathway or bows to its image in the sunny ponds.

  Meanwhile, as if to reward the citizens for allowing her to have her way for once, Nature departs from the invariable level, wearing gracefully the ornaments that have been reverently bestowed upon her. So the lawn slopes in a velvety green; the paths wind in and out; flower beds glow and send forth perfume; and ponds and sky look at each other in mutual admiration.

  Even on that winter day the Bosch was beautiful. Its trees were bare, but beneath them still lay the ponds, every ripple smoothed into glass. The blue sky was bright overhead, and as it looked down through the thicket of boughs, it saw another blue sky, not nearly so bright, looking up from the dim thicket under the ice.

  Never had the sunset appeared more beautiful to Peter than when he saw it exchanging farewell glances with the windows and shining roofs of the city before him. Never had The Hague itself seemed more inviting. He was no longer Peter van Holp, going to visit a great city, nor a fine young gentleman bent on sight-seeing; he was a knight, an adventurer, travel-soiled and weary, a Hop-o'-my-Thumb grown large, a Fortunatas approaching the enchanted castle where luxury and ease awaited him, for his own sister's house was not half a mile away.

  "At last, boys," he cried in high glee, "we may hope for a royal resting place——good beds, warm rooms, and something fit to eat. I never realized before what a luxury such things are. Our lodgings at the Red Lion have made us appreciate our own homes."

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